A gas leak led to an explosion that rocked one of Washington's most elegant pre-World War I apartment buildings early yesterday, forcing a temporary evacuation of the 106-unit building and causing an estimated $100,000 in damage, according to D.C. fire officials.
No one was injured by the blast, which occurred at 2:35 a.m. at the Wyoming Apartments, 2022 Columbia Rd. NW.
The cause of the leak is under investigation by the D.C. Fire Deparment and city inspectors.
Jack Kreuzberg, director of construction for the firm that is renovating the Wyoming into condominium units, said preliminary indications are that a workman employed by the new owner of a third floor condominum unit may have unplugged a cap on an old gaslight fixture. He said the gas then spread to a fourth floor apartment where the explosion occurred.
The turn-of-the-century building had gas-powered light fixtures before electricity and still uses gas for cooking.
Bernard Segerman, president of Wyoming Associates Inc., the building's developer, said workmen hired by Wyoming Associates were not responsible for the gas leak.
Segerman said his company was having every gas line in the building checked before gas is turned back on. "It was an accident," Segerman said. "There's no reason to believe that it will happen again in another 70 years."
Paul Young, spokesman for Washington Gas Light Co., said an old gaslight fixture could be the cause of the leak. Young said that often the lines used to power the gaslight fixtures still receive gas because they are part of the building's overall gas pipe network, which in the case of the Wyoming is still active because of the gas stoves.
"In and of themselves, the old gaslight fixtures are not a danger because they are capped," Young said. But, "if you took one cap off, you just might happen to have an open line in there."
Nell E. MacCracken, a former resident of the Wyoming, said that when she moved about a month ago, her old apartment was engulfed with gas fumes when she had someone remove a chandelier from a light fixture. "The odor of gas was almost enough to asphyxiate you, and it wasn't coming from my stove."
Current Wyoming residents said yesterday they were unaware of the gaslight fixtures, but they said they were confident the developer would make sure the building is safe.
The explosion shattered at least seven windows and damaged walls in three apartments on the fourth floor that were occupied at the time.
"It sounded like a large bomb was set," said Margaret Cuthbert, the occupant of one of those apartments, who said she was awakened by the blast. "There was glass flying. Everything was going crazy."
Cuthbert said the developer was helping to find temporary shelter for her and the two residents of the other apartments hit by the blast.
The condominiums are selling for $60,000 to $225,000, and 80 percent of the units have been sold, officials said.
The seven-story building is a mixture of Georgian and beaux-arts architecture, and was scheduled to be razed for the expansion of the Washington Hilton Hotel until neighborhood groups blocked the addition. Among the many notable persons who have lived in the Wyoming were Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower from 1928-1936.